Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of branding. Unfortunately, we have yet to define exactly what I mean by “branding.” Branding is a process of developing the corporation’s or product’s character and image in the market. This is a simple definition, but a brand itself is a very complex machine.

There are three key aspects of a brand: the product, its reputation, and its avatar. (Most of us call logos and word-marks “brands.” I chose to use the word “avatar” instead to avoid confusion with the overall brand concept). We can best illustrate these dimensions by analyzing a brand already in the marketplace: Starbucks Coffee.

The Product

Most people think Starbucks sells coffee. This, however, is not the case. Starbucks’ product is the coffee shop experience. Only a small portion of your morning mocha’s price covers the coffee and labor, the rest goes to developing unique locations and the distinctive Starbucks atmosphere. The corporation allows for licensees rather than franchises to operate under its brand umbrella – a key difference between a coffee-selling company and an experience-selling one.


Branding is all about image – how well the product presents the image and how well the image is reflected by the company. Maintaining a positive reputation in the market is vital to keeping a brand successful. Starbucks works to maintain its reputation by offering free trade coffee, hosting community-building events, and investing heavily in sustainable development programs. By publishing an annual “Corporate Responsibility Report,” Starbucks is remaining as transparent as possible, lending further credibility to its brand.

The Avatar

“Starbucks.” The name immediately conjures mental images of store-fronts and memories of warm beverages for almost everyone. Starbucks has gone at great length to protect its avatar, entering into lengthy legal battles with imitators hoping to benefit from Starbucks’ hard work and marketing. The iconic logo is a beacon to caffeine-deprived business people the world over – In Japan, it is taboo to eat or drink while walking. However, many Japanese people will carry Starbucks mugs with them in hopes others will recognize the logo and immediately respect them for their high-level of disposable income.

The branding process is incredibly important to building a successful business. Understanding the aspects of a brand helps simplify the process somewhat, but it can still present many different challenges. While the Starbucks example above may seem straight-forward, it has taken this company more than 30 years to get where they are today. Simple? Not really.

Which of these three dimensions of the brand do you think is most important?